Earlier this year I visited the Philippines. The main port of entry to this country, capital city and most well known destination is as most would know – Manila.
Manila wasn’t a city which I greatly enjoyed, mainly because its suited for Western tourists and hence isn’t the most welcoming place for a Muslim to be in. I did however manage to find a few mosques in the centre of the city as well as a Muslim enclave in Taguig city which was relaxing to be in.
Manila is not a Muslim majority city, its barely populated by Muslims in fact. Almost all of the locals are Christians and other than a few bombings blamed on Muslim rebels in the city, Islam and Muslims are not very ingrained into the city’s identity nowadays.
It was in Zamboanga City however that I was reminded of something that I heard from a few years back – That Manila was once the capital of a vast Muslim Empire in the Northern Philippines, and that even its name has Islamic origins, it is a contraction of ‘Amanillah’ (امان الله) meaning ‘Security of God’.
When I returned to Australia, many Muslims repeated this to me upon hearing that I had been to Manila. Some even talked about the pity that Manila was once a thriving Muslim city and how the Philippines used to be a completely Muslim nation. The key to it all was that name ‘Manila’. It was proof of this secretive Muslim past that seemed to have been covered up by the Spanish conquerors who christianised the Philippines.
Is it all true though? Did the Philippines once belong to a Muslim empire which stretched throughout the entire archipelago?
Well, yes and no.. Some parts of the Philippines were under Muslim rule, mostly the southern parts where Islam first entered the country when Karim al-Makhdum established Islam in Tawi-Tawi and in the general Sulu region (Southern Philippines), and there were also sultanates established in the Visayas (Central Philippines) and then there was also the sultanates of Rajah Sulayman and Rajah Matanda which were based in Luzon (Northern Philippines) and actually did cover what is today the city of Manila.
Islam was definitely well established, and Muslims held rule in much of the country until the Spanish conquerors came along. However much of the Philippines was still not under Muslim rule, especially in Luzon and those areas still until today have never really been exposed to Islam or Muslims. Modern day Philippines is of course the only Christian majority country in all of Asia and much of the population knows very little of their Islamic past.
I guess it is the Filipino populace’s ignorance of their history that drives Muslims to find relics of that past to remind people of this Islamic history, and what greater example than of their capital city having an Arabic name? Especially now as the Filipino army is waging a war against Muslims in the south and much of the population are not entirely sure why this is happening. Are the Muslims foreign to the Philippines? Are they a threat to the Filipinos? Or are they in fact the original inhabitants of the islands who were deposed and oppressed by the invading Spanish and Americans?
There is much available to see the history of the country and its Islamic past. The hero of the nation Lapu-Lapu who fought against Magellan and has a city named in his honour was a Muslim chief. The Tagalog language (which is the most widely spoken language in the Philippines) is littered with Arabic words such as Salámat (which means thank you). Muslim cultural practices and are widespread and have been integrated into Filipino society, and one will find many place-names which are drawn from Arabic (such as Curuan, from Qur’an). Add to that the fact that Muslims make up approximately 8% of the population and that the whole nation has a public holiday on Eid ul-Adhā and you will easily see that even on face value, the Muslim history of the Philippines is easily seen.
So what about Manila?
Well.. It actually comes from the word ‘Maynilad’ which is the original Tagalog name which means ‘place of mangroves’, as they grow abundantly in the Manila Bay.
I’m not sure how this legend spread so vastly without people actually reading up and checking it, but I guess that’s what also happened with the Filipinos who forgot their Islamic past and have not read up on it either.
It is knowledge and education which will let us reclaim our past and establish our future. So let’s remember the first word to have been revealed of the Qur’an and act upon it – اقراء Read!